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Nucleic acid
testing more effective than HIV antibody tests

Nucleic acid
testing more effective than HIV antibody tests

The nucleic acid testing program can detect HIV in the earliest stages of infection.

A nucleic acid testing program used by health agencies in North Carolina is much more accurate in identifying HIV cases, particularly those in the earliest stages of infection, than standard antibody tests, The [Raleigh] News & Observer reports. The tests can detect tiny amounts of viral genetic material in blood samples and are effective in screening both individual blood samples and batches of pooled blood samples, such as with units of donated blood.

Previous research showed that of 109,250 North Carolina residents screened for HIV, standard HIV antibody tests identified 583 HIV-positive people but that nucleic acid testing identified an additional 23 cases the antibody tests missed. The additional cases were identified during the first few days of HIV infection when particles of the virus are in the body but the immune system hasn't had enough time to produce detectable levels of antibodies to the virus.

North Carolina spends about $300,000 in state funds and tests about 120,000 people annually with the nucleic acid test, say health officials. They say that although the nucleic acid test is more expensive than HIV antibody tests, it more than pays for itself in the long run by catching the very earliest HIV cases and helping those newly infected from unknowingly passing along the virus to others.

Since North Carolina presented results of its nucleic acid testing program at an AIDS conference in 2004, about a dozen public-health centers around the country have launched similar testing programs or are developing them. (The Advocate)

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